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Queer Studies and its development through time

The article tells about queer studies, specifies its history and explains the development in the field in India, also telling about the institutes dealing with the same in India.


How many genders or sexes are there in the world? Everyone has a different take on such a question. For a “heterosexual” or a “cisgender” person, there only might be two genders; Male and Female.

  • Heterosexual: A person who is sexually attracted to a person of the opposite sex or gender.

  • Cisgender: A person whose gender identity (i.e. male or female) is the same as the identity or sex they were assigned at birth. They do not change their gender after birth.

But as of 2019 there are 64 genders in total, as announced by ‘GLAAD’.

  • GLAAD: Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, an American non-govt. media organization founded by the LGBT people in the media, to promote acceptance of their community.

  • “QUEER STUDIES” hence, is the study which relates to the issues regarding sexual orientation, gender identities focusing mainly on lesbian, gay, transgender etc. people and cultures. Such a study doesn’t just focus on genders alone, it takes into consideration biology, sociology, mental illness etc. It includes the examination for the person’s life history, habits, background etc. It aims at understanding the perspectives of LGBT people. This study tries not only to understand such people but also the causes behind a person leaving their birth gender.

However, Queer studies is very different from Queer theory. Queer studies, focuses and inquires the behavior of the LGBT people. It tries to study their natural and unnatural behavior and reasons for the same. In the very contrast, The Queer Theory expands and takes in it’s ambit all those who are deviating from their natural gender characteristics and behavior.


Queer originally meant to denote “strange”, “odd” or “peculiar”, but it later turned out to be a term or a slang used by the homophobic and now symbolizes a defiant resistance to heterosexuality and oppression based on social norms of gender identity existing in the society.

Homophobic: a term used for people who are prejudiced against the homosexual people.

In the words of Michael Warner, Queer Studies “rejects a minoritizing logic of toleration or simple political interest-representation in favor of a more thorough resistance to regimes of the normal… For both academics and activists, ‘queer’ gets a critical edge by defining itself against the normal rather than the heterosexual, and normal includes normal business in the academy”.[1]

In the earlier times, i.e. the nineteenth century until its late, people believed that there were only two genders. No one lived in denial of such fact. Everyone lived without the concept of gender specificity. The term “GAY” did not even came into existence until the mid-twentieth century. Some sexologists and scholars after the advent and coinage of the term started giving their concepts about genders other than the known and contemporary ones. The British sexologist Havelock Ellis, for example, referred to both people who we would today identify as gay or transgender as “sexual inverts,” which he defined as persons who exhibit same-gender attraction and a gender presentation socially contrary to the sex one was assigned at birth. [2]

Similarly, the term homosexual was never coined before 1869. in 1869 Hungarian doctor Karoly Maria Benkert coined the term homosexual. But in mid-twenties homosexual activists started preferring the term “homophile”. Such a term removed sexual from the coined term. Such a removal according to them, propagated a positive outlook toward same sex attraction. It accumulated acceptance and slightly removed the scope of prejudice against the homophile people.

The term “lesbian” comes from the Greek island of Lesbos, associated with the poet Sappho, whose surviving writing lyrically describes erotic love and attraction between women.[3] After the second wave of the US women movement, in the mid-twenties, the gay women gained a consciousness of how they were very different from the heterosexual women and also from gay men. The articulation for a separate term for the gay women thus, was a necessity.


Struggling from as late as the eighteenth century to just voice their recognition by the rest of the world, in November of 2015, Ireland became the first ever country to give gay rights to its citizens.

In India however, there was no awareness of such a concept. The constitution itself penalized gay sex in the ambit of “unnatural sex”. Whereas, the sculptures from ancient India showcased, such a concept. At the Khajuraho temples, in Madhya Pradesh, there are multiple sculptures and figurines showing erotic positions between two men. Historical literary evidences also support the fact that homosexuality was prevalent throughout the Indian subcontinent until the 18th century and in no sense was considered inferior or unusual. Such an inferiority was developed only during and after the British colonial rule.

The homosexuals in India have struggled for their rights for years together. Section 377 of the Indian constitution, introduced in 1861 under the British rule made all sexual activities which are unnatural, illegal. In 2006 “Suresh Kumar Kaushal v. Naz Foundation” was a case brought in front of the Delhi high court. The court at the end of the hearing struck down many sections of 377 as unconstitutional. However, the supreme court withheld such a judgement. It was now, in 2018 that after the case of “Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India” that section 377 was repealed and called unconstitutional “in so far as it criminalizes consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex", making homosexuality legal in India.

According to Harvard University, the City University of New York began the first university program in gay and lesbian studies in 1986. The first undergraduate course in the United States on LGBTQ studies was taught at the University of California, Berkeley in the spring of 1970. It was followed by similar courses in the fall of 1970 at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL).


Manvendra Singh Gohil is an LGBTQ activist and also the very first prince in the world to come out and talk about his non-binary sexuality. He devotes his life and time sensitizing people about gay rights and homosexuality. He thus, has devised a module for queer studies in India as a weeklong project. This project was introduced in Karnavati University in Gujarat for undergraduate students of liberal arts and law.

“With the Supreme Court decriminalizing Section 377, it is even more important now to educate people about the community. It is the only way to bring an end to stigma and prejudice,” Gohil said.[4] The course was described by Gohil as an ‘understanding of sex, sexual behavior and sexuality’.[5]

Such an idea propagated and germinated in his mind only after March, when he visited the campus for a lecture and the students had many questions about the then ongoing LGBT movement, history of LGBT in India, the prejudices he faced in his regular life etc. and this enthusiasm by the students of the college and the faculty alike made the vice chancellor of the university Dr Deepak Shishoo, to ask for a longer session and then the said project.

“A two-three hour-long session or workshop is easy to forget; students may not be responsive to it. But we made sure that the course was spread across seven days, made compulsory for all graduating students and was a marked one.” Shishoo said. The professor thinks that decriminalising 377 was just the tip of the iceberg. The verdict only acknowledges homosexual intercourse, it does not talk about rights.

“There are so many issues. Marriage rights, child adoption and rearing, property inheritance. All these issues can only be dealt with if people understand and accept the community’s history, its psyche, and culture,” Shishoo said.

However, this is not the first university in India to teach gender sensitization or about LGBTQ as a subject. There are many more universities and colleges focusing in this area and field of study. Bengal’s Kalyani University has a course called New Gender Studies to tackle the understanding of non-binary sexual identities, Jadavpur University has a course on Queer Studies in the English department, Tata Institute of Social Sciences has a course on ‘Queering Feminism’.[6]


[1] MICHAEL P. BIBLER, QUEERING THE RELIGION (Cambridge University Press, 2013). [2] Jeffry J. Iovannone, The LGBTQ Acronym: More than a random collection of letters, MEDIUM, June 5, 2017. [3] Jeffry J. Iovannone, A Brief History of LGBTQ Initialism, MEDIUM, June 9, 2018. [4] Rakhi Bose, With 377 gone, does India need more focus on LGBTQ Studies in college?, NEWS 18, September 9, 2018. [5] Id. [6] Bose, supra note 4.

Submitted by,

Shubhangi Gandhi,

Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.


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